IPMA International Project Management Association
12 April 2017 / 8:13

The element of trust in project management

Trust is a complex concept that has different meanings depending on the situation and relationships observed.  Trust is an essential element of healthy and cooperative ties between employees, business and profession. Different characteristics of industries indicate meaning of trust. In information system projects trust is built within core business more than it is the case in construction industry. Construction industry is rather known for distrust between partners. Some industries are more vulnerable than others, when it comes to trust. Research clearly shows the importance of trust within projects. The main problem of trust is that it´s not well interpreted in different industries. For example, despite the positive impact of trust in team management (Mayer et al., 1995.), applications of trust in construction industry has not been forthcoming as wished. For  Automotive industry trust plays a crucial role, as the value creation is totally dependent on constructive cooperation. Cooperation based on trust between project participants means more than just a good relationship. It has an impact on the whole industry and can create big losses and great achievements.

Development of a definition to reduce the psychological content, although influenced by Rousseau et al. (1998.), for a project setting and enhance the market and legal context is reproduced below: Trust is a disposition and attitude concerning the willingness to rely upon the actions of or be vulnerable towards another party, under circumstances of contractual and social obligations, with the potential for collaboration (Edkins and Smyth, 2006.). Trust which can be trusted (or, symmetrically, distrusted) is a particular level of the subjective probability with which an agent assesses that another agent or group of agents will perform a particular action, both before they can monitor such action (or independently of his capacity ever to be able to monitor it) and in a context in which it affects their own action. When we say we trust someone or that someone is trustworthy, we implicitly mean that the probability that the other will perform an action that is beneficial or at least not detrimental to us is high enough for us to consider engaging in some form of cooperation with him. Correspondingly, when we say that someone is untrustworthy, we imply that that probability is low enough for us to refrain from doing so (Gambetta, 1988.)

In order to understand the relationship between trust in management and employee performance, it is important to consider how employees can be vulnerable to management, and how vulnerability relates to performance.  Vulnerability can derive from a number of sources.  It is important to recognize that an employee can become vulnerable both through active behavior and through passive behavior, or by opting not to engage in self-protective behavior.  For instance, sharing information with a manager that is potentially damaging to the employee is an example of an active behavior that actually puts the employee at risk. If the manager uses the information, either intentionally or unintentionally, in a way that damages the employee’s interests, the outcome for the employee is negative (Mayer and Gavin, 2005.). Following IPMA, the relationships in the team are built on mutual respect, trust and reliability. Since project manager works with various professionals, openness is an important competence: sometimes team members have an area of expertise where they are more knowledgeable than the project manager (IPMA, 2006.).

All project managers work with their teams in different environment and industries. Following that variety, it is crucial to understand and build relationships. Better understanding of working environment creates a healthy environment. Trust, as important competence of project managers´ relations has different impacts on them. Developing trust represents a key factor in developing future relations.


Edkins, A.J.; Smyth, H.J. (2006), Contractual management in PPP projects: evaluation of legal versus relational contracting for service delivery. ASCE Journal of Professional Issues in Engineering Education and Practice, Vol. 132/2006 No 1. pp. 82-93

Gambetta D. (1988.), Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations. Oxford: Basil   Blackwell: University of Oxford, Oxford

IPMA (2006), ICB IPMA Competence Baseline for Project Management. Version 3.0. The Netherlands: International Project Management Association, The Netherlands

Mayer, R.C.; Davis J.H. and Schoorman (1995), An integrative Model of Organizational Trust. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 20. No.3. pp. 709-734

Mayer R.C. and Gavin M.B. (2005), Trust in management and performance: Who minds the shop while the employee watch the boss? Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 48/2005 No.5. pp. 874-888

Rousseau D.M.; Sitkin, S.B.; Burt, R.S. and Camerer, C. (1998), Not so different after all: a cross-discipline view of trust. Academy of Management Review, 23/1998, pp. 393-404

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Sandra Misic

Author of this post

Sandra currently works as Assistant to the IPMA President and Executive Director. Since joining IPMA in 2012, Sandra worked in FMCG sector for Procter&Gamble. She holds Master in Economics from Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Zagreb. After graduation she continued at the same University the doctoral programme in Business Economics. Her particular research interest is behavioral economics.